ea_spouse (ea_spouse) wrote,

EA: The Human Story

My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.

EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?

I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.

Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.

Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.

Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.

Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.

The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.

And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.

This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.

No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.

EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.

But can they?

The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)

To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.

The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.

I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.

If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?



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I work at EA. I don't think I've attended a meeting in the last few weeks where this blog hasn't been mentioned either as a nervous joke or a serious concern.

Why is EA suddenly a hot topic? - perhaps a fairly stagnant stock price over the last year combined with massive staff influx has brought us to some kind of critical mass. Who knows but I think 'ea_spouse' has definitely lit the blue touch paper...

Ok so now for my rant. Can anyone explain how the 'high tech' companies in British Columbia managed to make themselves exempt from standard working practices? It seems to open the way for poor treatment of staff. I'm from Europe and I was staggered when I discovered this:


Can EAC classify itself as 'high tech'? I thought videogames companies lived in the 'interactive entertainment' pigeon hole. I don't see videogames developer in the government's list. We don't build or design the hardware so how would we be any different from someone at Mattel or Hasbro who develops the latest toys?

If EAC do fall into the scope of being considered 'high tech', last time I checked we have a few hundred programmers who might fall into the category and 1000+ staff who probably do not.

Even ignoring working time excess, I believe EA have actually breached my employment contract a number of times. Although it would be unfair to say that no breach of contract has ever happened at another employer that still doesn't make it alright.

At EA I've worked many weekends and far more hours week-on-week than any other company I've ever worked at. If I was working similar hours to my previous employers I would say I received fair compensation. I have worked crazy hours at another developer but never sustained for so long. I actually received overtime and/or bonuses from that developer during crunches so this is not an alien concept for some of us in the industry.

I have never seen any mention of an employee / employer liaison committee for discussing these overtime practices.

I would like the 'high-tech' employee and company status of EAC to be clarified by HR. A simple job classification head count via internal email would suffice.

I firmly believe everyone at EA should aim to receive compensation for excessive overtime or reach rational scheduling agreements before crunch time so employees can perform at their optimum and not at their limit. I also believe EAC should make employees aware of how they are following the relevant legal procedures. If you're from EA and want to pursue this or from another company and have prior experience of these agreements, please mail me:


If you work for EA and feel that I am wrong to add my thoughts to this blog, please feel free to mail me as well. It may turn out to be a cathartic experience for everyone involved.

Ok. EA are not the only ones who may have their hand in the tempting cookie jar of employee abuse. If you in the industry or are considering games development as a career it is likely you will come up against more than one employer who behaves like this. However for a company with the $x,000,000,000 stockmarket footprint of EA I believe we should take them to task. There are many great points to working for EA and everyone reading this should be aware that it is certainly not all bad.

Just for the record, EA have not overstepped my mental 'line in the sand' *yet*. If they do, I will almost certainly do what Joe Straitif (sp) did. Like him (and other experienced game developers), I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can move fairly easily to another job if required.

I have enough experience in games to realise that excessive overtime indicates poor workflow and management. I worked at company previously where we hit every milestone and we would usually go home around 7 o'clock during the week before a milestone. I am giving EAC the benefit of the doubt over the coming year but they won't get a chance for a third strike.

Continued on next post...
If EA put their house in order and address their workflow issues they will (re)discover they can do the same job with fewer staff and in less time. That means more great titles can be pushed in parallel with less pressure on the development staff and more staff will come and work for them. That means we all make more money in the long run because the stock will follow.

Given the resources of EA I often find myself wondering why we are putting out sequels on a yearly basis with a ship date close to the final project date. Why not get ahead of the game and schedule a team to final 6 months or even a year before it's launch? We are not a small development house who cannot afford a solid safety margin at the cost of a period of overlap to get the ball rolling.

Many smaller developers do a great job with a fraction of the staff we have on our teams and produce comparable or better output.

Would their employees leave their employer if they were treated in the way many at EA are? Yes.

Do crunched up (EA et al) employees produce better work than reasonably rested ones do? No.

On a personal note, in the past I often worked in my spare time and went beyond my job mandate just to get something done. I definitely noticed that when being made to crunch for months on end at EA the last thing I wanted to do at home was anything related to EA.

Theres probably a disclaimer on this website but just to be sure:

Everything I've expressed in this post (except the quoted website) is entirely my opinion.


Re: Are EAC practices legal?


15 years ago

Re: Are EAC practices legal?


15 years ago


you're under no obligation to work for an employer that's actually detrimental to your health. there's no "contract" on the face of this earth that's "legal and binding" in the face of health issues.

as for your "family" that you must "support", if you're so much in debt that losing your job will cause a catastrophy in your family, you're not only ill, you're a goddamn idiot.

no job is worth losing your health for. in fact, faced with worry and misery, i'd choose poverty over a well paying job. "to have" through "sacrifice" of things that are really important is, well, fucking stupid.

There's many problems with this. One problem for a lot of people is just leaving the lifestyle they're acustomed to. It's hard to leave a job that's paying you lots of money so you can buy a nice car, eat at fancy restarants, live in a fabu neighborhood and pay for whatever college your kid wants to go to. Programmers make a decent amount of money, and it's not something that can be easily given up.

Also, many of these people simply love the industry. Why would someone want to program a database for a bank or hospital when they could have fun making a video game? There's also a certain culture that people have in the video game industry. These people are very similar in that they're smart, casual and love playing games. A programmer from the video game industry would probably have a hard time fitting into the professional 9-5 business attire yuppie environment.

I could be wrong, but this is what I've seen from my observations of the industry. The solution isn't just quitting because these positions will be filled immediately by young people who will do anything to get into the industry (this is where I am btw). Instead, those who are in the industry need to impact change now from where they are. I don't think unions are necessarily the answer, but there needs to be some kind of solidarity among the work staff to not put up with these hours no longer.

- Some dude wanting to see change in the industry

Re: the answer is simple


15 years ago

Re: the answer is simple


15 years ago

Re: the answer is simple


15 years ago

Re: the answer is simple


15 years ago

Re: the answer is simple


14 years ago

If you do a good job while working 24-7 then you enable who ever came up with this idea. Next time a crisis happens don't do such a good job. Behave like tired people behave - make mistakes. You guys just dig your own grave.



December 8 2004, 23:17:02 UTC 15 years ago

you said this is illegal right? Why can't you guys just get a group together with some pay stubs or just basically something that proves you have been working those insane hours and go to court. I find it hard to believe that there is nothing you can do besides writing this article. There must be some legal form of action you can take to get the money you deserve isn't there?
The problem is more complicated than that.

1) None of these extra hours are really documented, specifically to make this more difficult.

2) If this were a cut-and-dry legal situation, it would've already been resolved - Game developers fall into a legal gray area - software engineers don't get much in the way of protections, but entertainment people do. Our contention is that our jobs are virtually identical to some protected entertainment positions, but these don't apply because the end-result of our efforts is software.

3) People are scared. It sounds lame, but there is a lot of fear of losing one's job, and many companies cultivate this fear to keep people in line.

Re: question


15 years ago

Re: question


15 years ago

can you give us any information about when you think it is likely that you will have a court date? Do you think it will take several years? Have conditions there improved at all due to the media attention you have attracted?
oh dude, are you familiar with the legal system in this country? Most cases, if they ever do get a hearing (which can take years), are settled before they ever go to trial. For the most part, years pass by and legal teams send back and forth pounds of depositions, correspondences, pleadings etc. All the while, the attorney fees escalate, time marches by on the calendar, and some magical date looms on the horizon - one that you never can seem to reach because some pleading gets in the way. The legal system in this country is a broken, miserable process and the individual,the plaintiff, rarely sees justice. This case, I can assure you, will probably settle some day in the future, just when the XBOX 4 is debuted at some E3 party with booth babes wearing g-strings that double-down as fiber optic cable. IF you have enough money, and the right kind of legal counsel, you can burry any case in that fragmented, corrupted american legal system. Good fucking luck.
Tax free cigarettes at bargain prices.
sweet, i was reading all this thinking 'i could really use an ad for cheap cigarettes. i don't want one on the side of the page or even a pop-up. i want one right in the responses!'
programmers, marketing associates, developers, script writers, these are the people who make our games. Our worlds of adventure and entertainment come from hours of solidly plugging along on a computer, with a development engine, to create the pixelated worlds we so covet.
Shame on EA. Running these men and women ragged. I like my video games, but not at the cost of someone going home to a cooked dinner, and loving family. No man, no matter what work he does should ever have to tell his wife, he can't come home tonight, theres just too much work to do. I have honestly, never been a supporter of big game firms, simply becasue of the sweatshop like environment there programmers have to live with. I tip my hat and heart to all those men and women toiling in front of a computer for my video game wonderment, thank you, for you folks have given me some great times. Shame on EA.



December 9 2004, 18:33:28 UTC 15 years ago

Someone on /. suggested this, and I just couldn't resist;


*ahem*...actually, we generally do get t-shirts.

For my 90 hour weeks at EA, I get a decent-to-excellent annual bonus, comp time, and reasonably valuable stock options as well.
You can look it up. All public companies are required by law to post what they pay their executives. You can find Larry's 2003 and 2004 salary here.

This article was so full of ill-informed, naive, melodrama that I'm honestly shocked it has gotten as much press as it has. You can't swing a stick without whacking 3 or 4 rhetorical fallacies in every paragraph.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, ea_spouse, but this is how the free enterprise system works. Corporations exist to make money. Their sole mission in life is to maximize shareholder wealth. Your comment about EA being a "money farm" made me just scratch my head. Of course EA is a money farm. All companies are. Is this news to you?

It may hurt your feelings to know this, but EA doesn't give a toss about your husband's physical health or his relationship with you. They care about getting a game out on time and making as much money as they possibly can from said product. If your husband is able to contribute to that effort and bring value to the project he is working on while working 80 hours a week, guess what? He's going to work 80 hours a week. If his working 80 hours a week was a problem and his productivity dropped to an unacceptable level, he would be fired. I feel like I'm lecturing a schoolchild, but I honestly don't think you understand this stuff.

If it helps you to visualize, think of your husband as a widget. To EA, your widget-husband has one input and one output. The input is his hours worked and the output is his creative contribution to the project. If they don't get the proper ratio of hours to performance, he will be replaced. And guess what? EA knows the exact expense of finding, hiring and training a new widget to replace him. They would just as soon have the next widget in the box as your husband. He is merely a means to and end, and that end is maximizing shareholder wealth.

My point is this: If EA can work your husband for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end, one of two things is true.

1. The opportunity cost of replacing him is very low. Which means either a) his skill set is widely available or b) people really want to work for EA and are willing to endure whatever abuse they are burdened with.

2. Perhaps the experience of working for EA is worth so much at subsequent jobs that the 80 hour weeks are worth it.

In any event, no one is holding a gun to his head and forcing him to work there. That's the beauty of a free market economy. When the benefits of working for EA are outweighed by the long hours, people will leave on their own. The fact that EA is able to treat people like this means the market supports their actions. Evidently the employees are getting some sort of benefit from EA, otherwise they wouldn't continue to be employees, would they?

admin: lurid.org
Since when do we live in a free market economy? From the wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_market):

A free market economy is an idealized form of market economy in which buyers and sellers only carry out transactions to which they mutually agree without interventionism in the form of taxes, subsidies, regulation, or government provision of goods or services beyond simply the protection of property rights and enforcement of contracts..

Due to regulations for healthy working conditions, monopolies, emissions, etc. we do not live in a free market economy. Companies are required by law to pay taxes and ensure the health of their employees, as well as pay overtime to employees that work over 40 hours a week. Nor is "to make as much money as possible" the sole reason for EA (or any corporation) to exist; its an important part, but you would be hard pressed to find a mission statement that says "we want to make as much money as possible for our shareholders", EA's included.

Lets see.. make as much money as possible.. Work our employees 24 hours a day would make as much money as possible. Screw copyright law; lets steal and start selling our competitor's products. Heck, while we're at it, lets screw our customers too, by raising the price and selling them empty boxes!! You know, we're losing money by paying our suppliers; thats money that would go into our pocket..

We do not live in a "free market" economy. That is what makes this whole story atrocious. Just because the market supports their actions does not justify the actions themselves, nor absolve the market of wrong..

remind me never to work for you


15 years ago

Re: remind me never to work for you


15 years ago

*shrugs* Who gives a shit. NO ONE NEEDS TO WORK FOR EA OR BUY EA PRODUCTS. If you hate EA so much and your husbands job at said location, tell him to quit.

If you wanna goof off all day, go work for working designs. All they do is play pinball all day and release less than 2 games a year sometimes.
BTW, the Madden franchise must take alot of work from year to year.

I think if anyone is disrespecting employees, its you for saying the said football games are just "re-hashes".



15 years ago


15 years ago


15 years ago

Sounds like ea_spouse's partner works in a sweatshop in a underdeveloped country. But wait, this is USA. You can leave your current job with or without reasons.

I was upset on politics of my own country, I came to US, spent several years in a minimal-wage job and attend night-schools.

Then I found a better job, then better job until I met a hairy manager. I quit, find another job with a paycut, but I'm happier.

I never complain, I just vote with my feet! You can choose your life, at least in this country.

When you've spent a few more years in the country, you'll figure out you can also vote with your mind by creating a public relations nightmare for the company in question.

You said "You can choose your life". Did you understand what you meant, or was it just some happy horseshit you've learned to mimic? You're watching people "choose their life" right in front of you.

Re: Why not leave EA if you hate it?


15 years ago

Re: Why not leave EA if you hate it?


15 years ago

Leaving isn't that simple


15 years ago

Life is waaaay too short. I worked for Gremlin in Sheffield that was later taken over by Infogrames - it was never quite as bad as you describe but it was definately heading that way! Now do something much more interesting!


December 10 2004, 17:26:27 UTC 15 years ago

You are saying bla bla bla... and thats all i hear.. this is my lifestyle and I CHOSE IT, not the other way around. So stop whining and take a cookie, INSTEAD OF GETTING YOUR "significant" FIRED!!! btw what your "significant" did at EA im glad for it... BECAUSE EVERY GAME IVE PLAYED HAS CHANGED THE VIEW ON HOW I SEE THIS WORLD... and what ever he did it changed my view... you should thank you "significant"... take a cookie dry your eyes, THIS IS IT! THE REAL LIFE, not some dreamworld, wake up alice!!!

And i wish you good luck...

Perhaps you could tells us just how your "lifestyle" is threatened by ea_spouses actions? Or is working 90 hours a week an integral part of this lifestyle?

Many of us in the trenches (and those married/otherwise related to us) are right there with you and your spouse. Cheering you on, out loud or in private.

Keep up the good fight.

It is one well worth fighting.
Thank you for your comment. My own skin is pretty thick, but it is important for me to know that the people I'm championing don't think of it as an intrusion or anything negative. I get reports from my SO's impression of the attitude toward all of this at the EA office, and all of it is grateful, relieved, and good-humored, which I am in turn grateful, relieved, and humored by. ;) I'm also present without participating on a number of mailing lists where it's come up, so I have some tab on the pulse of industry attitude, but my point is that the feedback is important. Thank you.